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Conspiracies, Mysteries, and Monsters of Chernobyl

One of the the worst nuclear plant disasters ever recorded in history occurred in Ivankiv Raion, of northern Kiev Oblast, Ukraine, in the city of Pripyat, in what was at the time the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union, near the border with Belarus. It was here where on 26 April 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which would claim the lives of 31 people, plus many more in later years, send radioactive material spewing all over the western USSR and Europe, clear the immediate region of most of its inhabitants, affect nearly 7 million people, and cause environmental and health problems that still echo through and affect the area today. Yet among all of the human suffering and trying to piece together what happened, the region has also become ground zero for an array of strange mysteries involving everything from wild conspiracies, to ghosts, to mutant monsters, to UFOs, and others.

Much as with many other disasters, Chernobyl has spawned its fair share of conspiracy theories. First and foremost, have you heard the one about how the whole thing was a cover-up for something more ominous? This is the conclusion Ukrainian artist and documentary filmmaker Fodor Alexandrovich came to as he poked through the blasted ruins and history of the area looking for answers. After studying the sequence of events and the area, Alexandrovich became convinced that the whole incident was orchestrated by nefarious parties for the purpose of drawing attention away from the failure of a Soviet weapons system.

It all orbits around a mysterious radar array situated practically right next door to the Chernobyl reactor, which was known as Duga-3. The array was designed in the 1980s to be an early warning system to alert to missiles that had been just been launched, and in the process it emitted a series of mysterious clicks and taps that could be picked up on radio far and wide and which earned the installation the name “The Russian Woodpecker.” So relentless, powerful, and obnoxious was this incessant clicking that it interfered with TV and radio signals and even aircraft communications all over Europe and beyond, and there were numerous complaints from all over the world. For awhile the meaning behind these sounds remained enigmatic, starting many conspiracy theories in the process.

Duga-3 radar array

Alexandrovich came to the conclusion that the array simply didn’t work, by his assessment because the Aurora Borealis interfered with the signals and mucked everything up. According to him, rather than admit that they had made a costly mistake and wasted billions of dollars on a noisy piece of junk, some of those in the Soviet government who stood to lose the most launched a plan to willingly cause an explosion and reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl plant in order to distract and derail any investigation into Duga-3. Alexandrovich became so convinced of this far-out theory that he made a documentary about it called The Russian Woodpecker, and according to the crew they were plagued by numerous mysterious mishaps during production, such as the shooting of one of them by a sniper while filming and harassment by the Russian secret police. Is there anything to all of this? Did some shady figures in the government cause one of the greatest nuclear disasters mankind has ever seen just because they wanted to cover their mistakes? Like many other good conspiracy theories the answers remain complex and evasive.

Even if the government did not directly cause the disaster, it surely did show some questionable ethics in its wake. In addition to keeping a lid on the disaster for as long as possible, during initial investigations and clean-up operations the Russians formed a group of expendable workers picked from soldiers ranks that were to be sent into the danger zone. It was quite simply for these doomed souls; they could go off to war in Afghanistan for two years or spend just a few minutes working the Chernobyl disaster site and be released. Many men chose the latter, and they became known as “liquidators,” who were mostly tasked with shoveling sand onto the dangerous, highly radioactive reactor. Unfortunately for them, for many this proved to be more of a death sentence than joining the fighting in the Middle East, and the vast majority of them would die of radiation poisoning or inexorable illnesses associated with working there. It is not something the Russians have ever really advertised, and the tale of the liquidators has been mostly swept under the carpet.

Chernobyl nuclear power plant

The Russian government has also been accused of sparking rumors in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster of a mysterious illness that has come to be called “Chernobyl HIV.” This supposedly unidentified disease is allegedly only passed on from those who have been in close proximity to the disaster zone, and it is these people who are claimed to be ground zero for some kind of potential epidemic. The thing is, there is no evidence whatsoever of such a sickness, and it seems to be part of efforts to close off and isolate the affected areas to leave them to economically wither and die more than anything else. Former U.S. Congressman, Alabama Secretary of State, and Alabama State Legislator Glen Browder has said of this conspiracy:

The most cruel thing I heard was the emerging rumor of “Chernobyl HIV,” a whispered warning against romance and friendship with impacted individuals. This damning gossip about some sort of infectious sickness among victims and survivors in that region is baseless; but fear-mongers have begun spreading the rumor anyway. Such talk not only hinders social opportunities for individual survivors; it discourage businesses from investing in impacted areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

But why should the Russian government have all the fun? Of course we have to get the CIA in here somehow, and there have been conspiracies that they have been involved with the Chernobyl tragedy as well. In the documentary Mysteries of the Abandoned: Chernobyl, American civil engineer and Chernobyl researcher Philip Grossman explains that through his analysis of the area he believes that the plant was more than just a means to produce power, but also as a site for nuclear weapons, making mention of the Duga-3 radar installation as well. He believes that the site was capable of not only detecting missiles, but also launching them. Grossman also says that he uncovered manufacturing plants in the area ostensibly for making consumer products, but which had evidence of also producing nuclear materials sealed off in hidden laboratories in the basement.

According to Grossman, the whole area around Chernobyl was a military site designed to detect enemy missiles and launch their own, all ready to be fully activated in the event of a war. He believes that the CIA caught wind of this and went about sabotaging the Chernobyl plant in order to take out the threat. It is all rather far-out, and presented in the documentary with its share of dramatic flair and ominous music, but Grossman apparently was given quite liberal access to the site by the Russian government, so it makes one wonder what kinds of things he managed to dig up there and whether any of his allegations could be at least partially true. However, would the U.S. government orchestrate the horrific suffering that this disaster entailed just to take out such an installation? It is hard to say.

In addition to human monsters linked to the Chernobyl disaster are the more literal ones, and there have been many reports of mutated creatures and abominations said to prowl these irradiated wastelands. It makes sense that such rumors should arise, as the public tends to equate high levels of radiation with bizarre mutations, and this is the bread and butter of many a science fiction tale. Some of the very real mutations that have been documented and witnessed at Chernobyl are dramatic and horrific birth defects in some animals, as well as some behavioral changes in some populations, some specimens of which are on display at the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum, but what of even more pronounced aberrations? Are there irradiated mutant monsters prowling this area?

Ever since the disaster there have been sporadic reports of outsized wildlife roving about these badlands, as well as monster fish cruising through the depths of the lakes and rivers here. Notable are the various reports of massive fish allegedly caught here which are said to be far beyond the normal sizes of their species. The phenomenon was most famously brought to public attention when Jeremy Wade, star of the popular Animal Planet TV show River Monsters, travelled there to fish its waters in search of the elusive creatures. Wade received special permission to enter the disaster zone and ventured to the Chernobyl area to try his hand at trying to catch one of the monstrous, outsized mutated catfish said to prowl the cooling channels of the Chernobyl reactor, armed with sophisticated radiation monitor devices.

Throughout the episode, Jeremy’s radiation detecting equipment goes off the charts numerous times, warning him of dangerous levels of radiation, but he soldiers on, catching various fish that are most definitely not noticeably deformed in any way, although probably saturated with radiation. The main catch was a relatively large catfish that seemed otherwise in all respects normal looking, but which proved to be in actuality a stunted individual only 50% of what it should have been at its advanced age. Spookily, radiation tests of the fish showed that it was dripping with the stuff, to the point that it was completely inedible. It is not really evidence of the monster fish reported from the area, but does show that the environment has been altered by radiation to the point that such tales might have a tenuous basis in fact.

An incredibly weird report started to make the rounds in the 1990s, and seems to point to some sort of giant mutant spider. The tale starts with the discovery of an unidentified man slumped over dead within a bleak, dilapidated tower block. The man was allegedly found sprawled out in an elevator, and an examination of the corpse found that there were two, yellowish blue bruised puncture marks to the neck and that it was a rather unearthly shade of pale. When the corpse was brought in to be examined, it was found that the cause of death had been an extreme amount of blood loss, with the body practically sucked dry, yet no sign of bloodstains had been found in the vicinity of the body when it had been found. There were also found no signs of foul play or forced entry. The story allegedly immediately caught on among the local residents of the tower block, who began to speak of some foul vampire killer on the loose, a rumor which authorities were eager to squash.

The rumors of some sort of vampire on the loose continued to swirl, and the panic increased until one month after the first killing residents of the apartment block heard the frantic screams of a girl emanating from the elevator and contacted the police. Horrified authorities would discover the corpse of a 13 year-old girl trapped within an elevator that was stuck between the 4th and 5th floors of the building. Once again, the body of the girl was found drained of blood, and with bruised, yellowed puncture marks on her breast. Eerily, it was the very same elevator that the previous victim had been found in.

This second death reinvigorated rumors of a vampire killer, human or otherwise, and panicked residents shunned using the elevator. For their part, the authorities purportedly tried to downplay the incident, claiming that the girl had died of a heroin overdose despite the fact that no syringe had been found in the vicinity and that the victim’s parents denied that she had ever used drugs. Locals were unconvinced, and insisted that some maniac or supernatural creature was on the loose. In order to try and curb the sinister rumors, quell the growing unrest that the crimes were causing, and put everyone at ease, a detective and police sergeant were allegedly assigned to spend several days regularly riding up and down in the crime scene elevator at all hours.

It is said that on one such patrol the elevator suddenly stalled between the 5th and 6th floors and the lights went black, forcing the two men to use their flashlights. Even at this point, the policemen were not particularly alarmed, thinking that the very old elevator had just broken down and would be back in operation before long. They used their two-way radios to inform their colleagues of the development and waited for rescue. Apparently, the two men became alarmed when they heard an odd clicking noise from above them and trained there flashlights upwards to catch a glimpse of a dark square where a roof panel had become dislodged. It was from here that the strange sound was coming, and after a moment of training their flashlights on the hole they supposedly noticed a furry head about the size of a man’s fist peering in at them. The sergeant allegedly drew his weapon but was ordered not to fire yet, as the thing seemed to be cowering from the light.

In order to test out this theory, the detective allegedly turned off his flashlight and whatever it was shifted and moved, revealing itself to be an enormous spider with legs 3 feet long. This supposedly sent the sergeant into a panic and he dropped his flashlight, which went out. Now bathed in darkness, the creature is then said to have descended into the elevator and proceed to attack the sergeant, biting him over and over again until the detective managed get his flashlight back on and to fire off his weapon, scaring the creature away and allegedly shooting one of its legs off. According to the story, the emergency response team arrived to find the sergeant dead from blood loss and the spider’s leg quivering on the floor.

This whole account is a wild tale to be sure, and it is hard to know just how much truth it has to it. According to the stories, the whole incident was supposedly covered-up by the authorities but it managed to leak to a Turkish newspaper, which allegedly first broke the news. This newspaper account apparently mentioned that the spider’s lair was subsequently destroyed and that large eggs had been found. The theory as to its origin was that it was a giant spider mutated by the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster. Since this outlandish tale is all based on a rumored report by a Turkish newspaper that could have very well been a tabloid, and considering that fact that any official source on the matter seems to be lacking, it smacks of a spooky tale generated by the Internet and is probably best taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is certainly creepy.

As outlandish and exciting as such stories are, the reality is that although there have been mutations witnessed in the local wildlife of the Chernobyl region, nothing seen so far has been so spectacular as these tales. Most of the changes are mundane things such as birth defects, decreased litters in rodent populations, and some health problems, but for the most part the flora and fauna of the area are not as devastated as one might think, and there certainly have been no official reports or hard evidence of super-sized monsters. In many ways, with the absence of human activity some species have actually been even better off after the disaster.

In addition to strange animal life reported from the disaster zone, with so much death associated with this place there are bound to be a few ghost stories as well. The abandoned ruins of the Chernobyl area are dripping with reports of phantoms and shadowy figures prowling the wreckage of what once was. This might come as no surprise from spooked curiosity seekers picking through the gloomy remnants of the towns here, but one very interesting report comes from an actual nuclear physicist who visited the location in 1997. Physicist Andrei Kharsukov claimed that he had been poking around the perimeter of the gutted remains of Reactor 4 one morning taking radiation readings when he had a bizarre experience he would not soon forget. He would say of what happened thus:

I arrived at the abandoned power station at about 7:30 am. I proceeded directly to the Reactor Four sarcophagus where the explosion took place. I could not enter, due to the radiation. I stood by the entrance taking radiation and roentgen readings. I know no one could be inside the old reactor core, but I could hear very distinctly hear the sound of someone screaming for help, shouting that there was a fire inside. I ran upstairs to tell someone, but they said that when I entered the reactor control room, I was the first person to open that door in three years, and the only way to get inside the old reactor is through the doors I came in through. If someone had gone inside the reactor when I was not looking, they would have tripped an alarm that goes off when the reactor door is opened mechanically.

The reactor door requires a password and a handprint, yet someone, or something was inside. Later that evening, as we were eating dinner outside the building by the river next to the plant, a flood light turned on in the room of the installation. There was no way anyone could be inside. As we ate we figured there was a power surge or something. Then just as my colleague said that, the light turned off.

Reports of paranormal activity are so common at Chernobyl that it has become a destination for ghost hunters, and has even appeared on the SyFy Channel’s show Destination Truth. When the team went into the area wearing protective garments, they claim that they encountered some bizarre phenomena indeed, such as spotting multiple unidentified figures moving about the rubble and anomalous thermal images of a humanoid entity lurking about near Reactor 4, even though at the time no one else should have been there. There were also EVP readings and several strange noises heard during the excursion. Does this place of so much death and suffering still hold these spirits to it?

While we are on the subject of ghosts we may as well mention the reports of actual zombies said to stalk the area of Chernobyl. These zombies are said to prowl about and attack anyone who comes to investigate the site, and there was even video evidence supposedly brought forward of this happening, when in 2010 a video was posted on YouTube that supposedly showed a soldier being set upon and ripped apart by zombies in the wilds of Pripyat. The video was purportedly taken by a Russian military night vision camera and it immediately got people talking. Unfortunately (fortunately?) the video was soon found to be fake. It turns out that the video was actually a part of a trailer for the 2007 video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, which is of course about mutated zombies hunting for prey at Chernobyl.

A still from the “Chernobyl Zombies” video

While death is a common theme running through the Chernobyl area, for some it has become a symbol of life, and for at least one unusual group of people eternal life. According to the website Vice, in the aftermath of the disaster, a group of survivors, along with some scientists and engineers, made their way to a tiny rocky island at the southernmost point of Europe of Greece called Gavdos, in order to start anew and according to some reports to pursue life everlasting. In addition to living a simple life off of the land, the ragtag group of refugees are said to be involved with pursuing experiments and research into immortality within makeshift laboratories, as well as the use of ancient secrets, mystical esoteric practices, and magical philosophies to help them along in their quest, and they have erected a temple on the island called The Temple of Apollo.

The eccentric group has ignited numerous conspiracy theories and a good amount of myths and speculation as to their true motives, which continues on to this day. The really interesting part is that, far from being a bunch of loons, they count among their ranks several prominent scientists, and rumors of their activities have been so persistent that the Russian government has even investigated them. One Norwegian documentary filmmaker named Yiorgos Moustakis has studied the strange group of inhabitants and said of them:

Many urban legends surrounded this group. Some thought that they came to this island to get cured from radiation. Others were saying that they are spies working for the KGB or CIA, working on a top-secret program. Most of these stories were told by people who had already met them and had seen their constructions around the island.

Gavdos Island

What are these people up to out there on this island? Are they seriously getting closer to some secret of immortality or are they just a bunch of disillusioned and possibly insane cultists holding onto a feverish dream? Whatever they are up to, it is one of the weirder and more intriguing of the tales revolving around Chernobyl. With all of this strangeness, one might wonder if there is any alien activity connected to Chernobyl, and the answer is: of course there is.

There have been quite a lot of conspiracies centered on the involvement of supposed extraterrestrial entities with the Chernobyl disaster, which postulate that these forces intervened to lessen the ultimate impact of the calamity. In the days leading up to the explosion at the nuclear plant, there were several sightings of UFOs in the vicinity, including a group of eyewitnesses who claim to have seen a mysterious object in the sky above the area for a full 6 hours. One of these UFO witnesses, a Mikhail Varitsky, would say of one such sighting:

I and other people from my team went to the site of the blast at night. We saw a ball of fire, and it was slowly flying in the sky. I think the ball was six or eight meters in diameter. Then, we saw two rays of crimson light stretching towards the fourth unit. The object was some 300 meters from the reactor. The event lasted for about three minutes. The lights of the object went out and it flew away in the northwestern direction.

The ongoing speculation among UFO enthusiasts is that these forces were seeking to contain and dissipate the damage of the disaster, and to even avoid a full nuclear blast, which is made all the more evident considering that many have come to the conclusion that the catastrophe could have, and perhaps very well should have, been much, much worse. Some witnesses have claimed that they had seen mysterious unidentified objects in the sky immediately preceding the disaster, and one Jerry Washington has explained that other rather credible professionals saw weird things going on as well, saying:

I offer this excerpt from Dr. Vladimir V. Rubtsov’s lectures as published in MUFON’s 1994 Symposium Proceedings;
About one month before the Chernobyl disaster I had a talk with an air traffic controller of the Kharkov airport. He told me that, according to pilots’ reports, there was a rising number of UFO observations in the area of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station (ChNPS). Later it became known that on the night of the fire in the ChNPS, some 3 hours after the explosion, a team of nuclear specialists saw in the sky over the station a fiery ball of the color of brass. The witnesses estimated its diameter as 6-8 meters and its distance from the burning nuclear reactor No. 4 as some 300 meters. Just before the observation these specialists measured the level of radiation in the place where they were standing. It was measured at 3000 milliroentgens per hour. ‘Suddenly two bright rays of crimson color extended from the ball to the reactor… This lasted for some 3 minutes… The rays abruptly faded and the ball slowly floated away in a north-westerly direction, towards Byelorussia. Then we again looked at our radiation monitor. It displayed only 800 milliroentgens per hour.

When the deadly disaster actually hit, there were other reports from teams that claimed these mysterious forces were in the midst of toning down the effects, creating incredibly drops in the amount of radiation released and an overall curbing of negative effects. There have been plenty of people who have claimed that the radiation levels were nowhere near as devastating as they very well should have been, so is there anything to this?  Did these visitors step in to intervene in a major crisis? If so why did they do it and where do they come from? No one knows.

This is all certainly a lot to take in, and these bizarre accounts run the gamut from the slightly unsettling to the downright outlandish. It all certainly shows that the Chernobyl disaster led to more than just the cost of human life and the heavy toll on the environment. It also has gone on to become a wellspring of tales of the bizarre, mysterious, and supernatural. Whether we ever know the answers or not, the forsaken wasteland of Chernobyl is a place of ghosts and phantoms, both figurative and perhaps literal as well.